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Anthony Douglas v. Michael J Astrue

February 3, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norma L. Shapiro,j


NORMA L. SHAPIRO, J. February 3, 2011

Plaintiff Anthony Douglas ("Douglas"), commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. By order of October 9, 2009, the case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hey ("Magistrate Judge") for a Report and Recommendation ("R&R"). Upon review of the record, the Magistrate Judge recommended the final decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. Douglas timely filed objections to the R&R. Having conducted a de novo review of the administrative record, the court overrules plaintiff's objections and affirms the final decision of the Commissioner.

I. Procedural History

Douglas protectively filed for SSI on January 24, 2006. He alleged disability from heart conditions as of December 20, 2005. After his initial application was denied, Douglas requested an administrative hearing. Plaintiff's claim was denied by an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on December 17, 2007. The R&R succinctly summarized the ALJ's findings:

At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial activity since January 24, 2006, the date of the application. R. 15.

At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: affective disorder; obesity; coronary artery disease; diabetes mellitus; and obstructive sleep apnea. R. 15 At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R Part 404, subpt. P, app. 1. R.16.

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the RFC*fn1 to perform a restricted range of sedentary work. Plaintiff can lift up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. He has no limitation with regard to sitting; however, he is limited to two hours of standing and walking (limited to forty minutes at a time). Plaintiff's mental RFC is such that he can perform unskilled work with only occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the general public. R. 18. At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. R. 24.

Considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, at step five, the ALJ determined, based on the testimony of the vocational expert ("VE"), that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, specifically parking lot cashier, order clerk, and surveillance system monitor. R. 24-25.

As a result, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. R. 25.

On February 9, 2009, the Appeals Council's denial of plaintiff's request for review made the ALJ's denial the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1472. Douglas filed the pending request for review on April 14, 2009. Douglas argues: (1) the ALJ failed to evaluate properly the effects of obesity and obstructive sleep apnea on his mental functioning; (2) the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of plaintiff's psychiatric witness' assessment of marked and extreme metal limitations; (3) the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to consider properly plaintiff's subjective complaints; and (4) the ALJ erred in relying upon the testimony of the VE, because her hypothetical question did not include all plaintiff's mental limitations. The Magistrate Judge found: (1) the ALJ properly considered plaintiff's obesity and its effects in reviewing his disability claim; (2) rejection of plaintiff's witness was proper because his diagnoses were not supported by record evidence and contradicted other, more competent testimony: (3) the ALJ's assessment of plaintiff's credibility regarding his subjective complaints was supported by substantial evidence; and (4) the hypothetical posed to the VE during the hearing to determine plaintiff's ability to work was adequate, and the number of jobs identified by the VE as existing in the national economy was sufficient to uphold the ALJ's denial of plaintiff's SSI application. Douglas filed objections to the R&R on November 11, 2010. He objects to the Magistrate Judge's adverse findings regarding his claims that the ALJ made errors: (1) in evaluating the effect of his obesity on his disability claim; and (2) in posing an inadequate hypothetical question to the VE.

II. Standard of Review

Under the Act, a claimant is disabled if he is unable to engage in "any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The claimant's impairment must render him "not only unable to do his previous work but . . . considering his age, education, and work experience, [unable to] engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). A five-step sequential evaluation is utilized to determine the viability of a claim of disability. The Commissioner considers whether a claimant: (1) is working; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of an impairment listed in the regulations considered per se disabling; (4) can return to past work; and (5) if unable to return to past work, can perform other work existing in the national economy. Bembery v. Barnhart, 142 Fed. App'x 588, 590 (3d Cir. 2005).

A reviewing court must accept the factual findings of the Commissioner if supported by substantial evidence and decided according to correct legal standards. See Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999); Doak v. Heckler, 790 F.2d 26, 28 (3d Cir. 1986). Substantial evidence is defined as relevant evidence a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a decision. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Lewis v. Califano, 616 F.2d 73, 76 (3d Cir. 1980). A court should not ...

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